Par­ents’ con­cerns should be heard, writes MHA

The Compass - - OPINION -

With the House of As­sem­bly sit­ting again and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in the midst of the an­nual pre-bud­get plan­ning process, this is an ideal time to high­light an im­por­tant is­sue for par­ents of chil­dren with autism spec­trum dis­or­der and their ad­vo­cates.

While there are many con­cerns about de­fi­cien­cies in the ser­vices pro­vided to per­sons with autism in the ed­u­ca­tion and health care sys­tems, one of the most con­sis­tent ar­eas of com­plaint is the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria for ac­cess­ing Ap­plied Be­havioural Anal­y­sis (ABA) home ther­apy.

The Ap­plied Be­havioural Anal­y­sis (ABA) home ther­apy pro­gram is an in­ten­sive home-based early in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram pro­vided to chil­dren with Autism Spec­trum Dis­or­der. This be­havioural and skill teach­ing in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram as­sists chil­dren with autism in meet­ing tar­geted de­vel­op­men­tal goals and is cur­rently pro- vided up to en­try into Grade 4 only.

The ABA el­i­gi­bil­ity cut-off at the end of Grade 3 is en­tirely ar­bi­trary — in fact, there is am­ple ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that ABA ther­apy can be ef­fec­tive in as­sist­ing per­sons with autism through­out the life­span. The cut-off is also prob­lem­atic since in many cases chil­dren do not re­ceive the re­quired di­ag­no­sis from a pe­di­a­tri­cian in a timely man­ner as a re­sult of as­sess­ment waitlists of up to 18 months or more. In th­ese in­stances, chil­dren with autism lose out on the op­por­tu­nity to ac­cess much needed early ther­a­peu­tic in­ter­ven­tions ei­ther in part or en­tirely.

With the sit­u­a­tion as it is, par­ents of chil­dren with autism in New­found­land and Labrador are, in some cases, pay­ing thou­sands of dol­lars out of their own pock­ets to cover the costs of pri­vately de­liv­ered ABA ther­apy and/or trav­el­ling out­side of the prov­ince to ac­cess di­ag­nos- tic and ther­a­peu­tic ser­vices. In cases where par­ents can­not pay for ser­vices out of their pock­ets, chil­dren with autism are not re­ceiv­ing timely di­ag­noses, fail­ing to over­come the de­vel­op­men­tal chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with autism, and sim­ply miss­ing out.

As it plans for the 2015 bud­get, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment should take the time to lis­ten to par­ents’ con­cerns about the ABA pro­gram and find a so­lu­tion to the un­ac­cept­able length of waitlists for pe­di­atric di­ag­nos­tic as­sess­ments. It is also time for gov­ern­ment to ex­tend el­i­gi­bil­ity for the In­ten­sive Ap­plied Be­havioural Anal­y­sis Pro­gram be­yond Grade 3. Do­ing so would greatly ben­e­fit chil­dren with autism and their fam­i­lies, as well as all of our schools and com­mu­ni­ties.

— Dale Kirby is the MHA for St. John’s North

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